Egypt: draconian new laws on NGOs and protests would be 'betrayal' of revolution

Parliament due to debate new restrictions on NGOs and freedom of assembly

Two laws that would severely restrict the work of independent civil society organisations and limit freedom of assembly in Egypt should be significantly amended or dropped, Amnesty International said today, as the country’s Upper House of parliament prepared to debate the proposed legislation.

A draft law proposed by the Ministry of Local Development tabled for discussion tomorrow would tighten restrictions already imposed on non-governmental organisations working in Egypt, including on registration, activities and obtaining foreign funding. Under this, plus another proposal by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, the authorities would retain powers to reject or block registration of NGOs and would have wide grounds for dissolving organisations.

The draft law developed by the Insurance and Social Affairs ministry would allow government officials to enter the headquarters of NGOs to monitor their records and activities. It also bans activities on the grounds of “threatening national unity, violating public order or morals”, as well as “field research” and opinion polling unless prior permission is obtained from the relevant authorities. Under the draft law, engaging in such activities would be punishable by imprisonment of between one and three years and fines.

Both proposals allow for the establishment of a powerful Co-ordinating Committee, enshrining the role of the security forces in overseeing the work of international organisations and in controlling both national and international organisations’ access to foreign funding.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“The Egyptian authorities are yet again trying to push through draconian legislation to stifle independent civil society and silence critical voices. Those same critical voices were instrumental in documenting Mubarak-era abuses and bringing about the ‘25 January Revolution’.

“President Mohamed Morsi’s administration must break with Mubarak-era tactics of smearing human rights NGOs in state-controlled media as foreign ‘spies’ and scapegoating them for all of society’s ills.”  

A separate draft law on public protests, also under discussion in the Upper House of parliament, would place severe restrictions on freedom of assembly on grounds that include “security or public order; hampering citizens’ interests; blocking roads or transport; delaying traffic … or serious threats to the above.” It also establishes a number of bureaucratic hurdles to organising a protest, gives governors the power to postpone a demonstration, or impose blanket prohibitions, and allows for the use of water cannon, tear gas and batons by security forces to disperse peaceful protests if an audible warning is not heeded.

Philip Luther added:

“A law which arbitrarily restricts the right to peaceful protest in post-revolutionary Egypt and gives wide discretionary powers to police to use force against peaceful protesters, would be a major setback and a betrayal of all those who stood up for human rights in the January uprising.”

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